A woman clutching her stomach
Can we cope with the flu?
Experts have been saying a flu pandemic is long overdue. How prepared is Jersey if one does come?
Will Jersey be able to cope with a pandemic flu outbreak if it comes to the island? Or will many of us drop like flies from the illness, leaving businesses and services to grind to a halt while the island's population malingers at home, feeling very sorry for themselves?
Well behind the scenes a Strategic Pandemic Steering Group has been set up to try and guard against that sort of miserable flu stricken future.
The 'flu virus (false colour)
That group includes the island's Emergency Planning Officer and the Medical Officer of Health, Dr Rosemary Geller.
Its estimated up to half the population would fall ill within four weeks if there was a flu pandemic in Jersey.
Dr Geller says a flu pandemic is already overdue, and expects it to come in the next five years.
Dr Geller told BBC Jersey: "The hospital will come under pressure as soon as flu arrives in the island. More people will be needing hospital care all at once than under normal circumstances.
"This will put extreme pressure on the hospital and the hospital will go into a completely different mode of operating, it will go into red alert on its escalation plan and very different things will happen there."
Part of the emergency planning will include Jersey's parish halls and polling stations being used as immunisation centres during a flu pandemic.
Constable Deidre Mezbourian is responsible for coordinating the parish response during any pandemic.
She explained that: "The parish hall will become a centre of activity because it will be turned into an immunisation centre. The idea is that all parish halls and polling stations will become these centres for everyone to be inoculated at."
Dr Geller explained that: "Pandemic flu is different to ordinary seasonal flu that we tend to see each winter because it is more severe and no one is immune to it.
"A pandemic sweeps right across the world and causes enormous disruption and it comes from the flu virus mutating.
"It is a very clever virus it doesn't just stay as one virus it becomes many viruses and from time to time about every 30 to 40 years it has a complete change in its structure and no one is immune to it.
"Quite often these changes go on in animals which are why there is the concern about the bird flu."
So although ordinary winter flu is only a real worry for the vulnerable, the very old or the very young, this mutant pandemic flu is something that we should all be concerned about. It will affect all ages and make a lot of people very ill all at the same time.
However Jersey says it's well prepared. This is because the island has got both a drug to treat the flu and a vaccine - both in enough supply for everyone who's normally resident in the island.
Dr Geller said: "In Jersey we have one of the best protection plans in the world because the States have decided we will stockpile the anti-viral drug Tami flu which treats flu once you get it and the pre-pandemic vaccine which should, if we give it as soon as the world health organisation has announced the pandemic has started, should give a lot of people protection.
"We're hoping that we will only have the impact of a winter seasonal flu outbreak if we put all these measures in place quickly."
Jersey's health and emergency planning authorities are working closely with the World Health Organisation to be vigilant about any new strains of the virus.
If the virus changes from the one used to create the pre-pandemic vaccine the island has stockpiles of – the vaccine will be no good.
In those circumstances you will have to grin and bear it, take the Tami flu treatment and hope you get better fairly quickly.
Dr Geller explained that: "There is an outside chance the pandemic could be a completely different virus altogether in which case our vaccine would be no good to us, we wouldn't use it and we would depend on the Tami flu to treat the flu when it occurred.”
When the strategic planning committee get the message that flu is on its way, islanders will be told to go and get their vaccine and where to get it from.
There will also be advice on how to reduce the risk of flu spreading.
Bird flu has not yet crossed into humans
Dr Geller told us that: "It's mainly around hygiene actually, if you wash your hands regularly and don't put your hands on your nose and your eyes because that is where the flu gets in.
"It does spread by sneezes and coughing but a lot of the flu is from your hands and your nose and your eyes."
So we've got our vaccine, we've got our Tami Flu drug to treat the cruel virus and we've got our advice on how to keep the spread of infection at bay - but if all else fails and we do succumb to this particularly severe from of the virus, then is the hospital well placed to be able to look after us?
Dr Geller believes so, she told us: "It will go into a red alert on its escalation plan and very different things will happen there. Any cases that are of a routine nature will be stopped so there will be no normal surgery taking place.
Pandemic flu - what would you do?
"Anyone who is able to go home will be sent home and given support in the community.
"At the hospital we have new areas that will open up as wards, we've got stored equipment, extra beds, and we've got 50 extra beds ready to set up in temporary wards."
The flu pandemic is not expected any time soon, perhaps it will never come, but Jersey is keeping a very tight eye on the world's flu cases and any impact those could have on the island.
last updated: 05/03/2009 at 17:34
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